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Monday, November 27, 2006

Ding! Ding! Ding! Spin Zone Alert! Tribune Weasel-Wording With Another Incomplete Non-Story! Ding! Ding! Ding!

A hint here. Whenever the Tribune uses the word “some” in its headline, look out: Vague, incomplete, spun, non-story ahead. And the November 26th’ entry was no exception. Here was the headline:

“Some charge Osos tax was money down the drainpipe.”

Some? Some charge? Is that like “everyone?” as in, “Mummy, Mummy, everyone’s going to go naked to Jimmy’s all night party, can I go too?”

Wait, it gets even better. Later in the non-story, we find out that the attorney for Taxpayers Watch (Oh, Nooooo, not them. Mummy, Mummy, please, PLEEEZE make those awful people go away!), “Since September . . . has been advising property owners who paid their assessment in lump sums to file claims in bankruptcy court . . . and Kate Neiswender, is noted as saying that . . . “property owners should be entitled to their money back for ethical reasons.”

A lawyer going into a bankruptcy court and arguing “ethical reasons?”

Even better, she is quoted as saying that the claims filed in bankruptcy court by “some people” should be decided this way: “The argument becomes more of equity and fairness than it does legal specifics.” In other words, she wants the bankruptcy judge to rule on the claims being brought by “some people” not on “legal specifics,” but on “equity and fairness.”

Or, need I add, “ethics?”

Well, a little back story. In 2001, the previous CSD Board set up a by-mail assessment vote for all property owners within the Prohibition Zone to assess themselves for the start up of a wastewater project. Single-family homes were assessed approximately $3,895, or they could choose to pay up front, which would have been about $3,340.” Some people decided to pay up front. Most didn’t.

The money collected went towards design, easements, land acquisitions, etc, for A WASTEWATER TREATMENT PROJECT. Interestingly enough, the assessments were only for the tiniest amount possible, not the full amount, since nobody knew the full costs because, at the time of the vote, there were no caps on the project, there never were caps on the project, it was entirely open-ended, limitless, and the HUGE final costs would come in the form of “service fees,” which required no further assessment-type votes.

In short, in 2002, the homeowners voted to assess themselves to start a wastewater project with no end in sight – (talk about fair and equitable and ethical) a totally open-ended project. (I know, “some people” actually thought they were buying a sewer project for their $3,895. Oh, no, not even close. Not even in the ball park. The voted-on start-up assessment costs were for a project that went “bait & switchy” on them, went 40% over bids, then went south with the old board wastefully pounding millions of their dollars into the ground prior to being recalled.)

Even more interesting to this case, the previous CSD encouraged people to pay up front by sending a letter offering a discount, i.e. pay up now and save interest. And even included in the letter that “in the unlikely event that the project does not move forward, [the prepayment] will be returned.”

Ah, you see the problem right there? Yes. “. . . does not move forward.”

Uh, Somebody want to define that for me? Move forward? Does “move out of town” count as “moving forward?” Does temporarily halting the project so it can be moved out of town still constitute “moving forward?” Does updating the project count as “moving forward?” Does submitting the updated project for peer review qualify as “moving forward.? The County now has the project, so are they “moving forward?”

Yet, apparently, it’s that letter that Ms. Neiswender is using to “advise” “some people” to go into court and demand claims that “range from $800 to $15,000 per property owner, plus interest.”

And for another wrinkle, -- Wait for it, it gets delicious -- The CSD members signing that original letter that promised repayment if the [wastewater] project did not move forward, were some of the very folks who were later recalled from office. One, a vital, active member and supporter of Taxpayer Watch is, – yep, Gordon Hensley. Did he sign that letter while on the Board? If so, will Taxpayers Watch “encourage” Gordon to go into bankruptcy court and explain to Judge Riblet what HE meant by . . . not moving forward?

Well, this is wonderful! And it remains to be seen what the Judge makes of it all: either she will decide right then or bounce the whole thing back to state court and see how a Superior Court judge would rule – law or ethics & equity and fairness. Hmmmm,. . .

Meanwhile, of course, defending against such suits by “some people” further depletes the coffers of the CSD, hence may end up sticking the costs of all this onto the citizens of the CSD, which includes ALL people, not just “some.” Which raises the questions, Is that Fair? Equitable? Ethical?

And since Taxpayer’s Watch failed in their dissolution bid, then failed to get two of their “slate” of CSD candidates elected, are they now going to “encourage” more lawsuits in an effort to simply bleed the CSD to death by any means, fair or foul?

All the while, of course, decrying fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the CSD, while they themselves still owe LAFCO some $27,000 in county costs for bringing their failed dissolution case against the CSD. To my knowledge, they haven’t paid off that debt yet, which again brings up matters equitable & fair for “some people.”

Oh, and, of course, “ethical.”

21 comments:

Sewertoons said...

uThe present CSD is perfectly capable of bleeding itself dry with lawsuits, thank you. They appear to have the same objective as TW once had, which is dissolution.

Is getting nothing the correct result of having made a prepayment? Do you not think that many people came to the conclusion of the unfairness of it with no help at all from Taxpayers' Watch? Duh!

How about investigating and writing that the County might consider these monies as a credit towards the project that they would build. But I guess it is much more fun to harp on old stuff and slam TW and the old board than to investigate a possible positive result.

Do you consider it "ethical" that the present board "borrowed" $760,000 to make the bond payment that should have been paid out of our collected tax money? There was no public noticing of this action. How are we going to pay that money back? So far, total silence from the board. Too busy generating lawsuits against the County I guess.

Shark Inlet said...

Maybe I am confused.

Can you explain to us again why it is ethical to borrow money for one purpose then not use it for another?

The LOCSD made a deal with us and promised to pay us back if the project doesn't move forward. Guess what ... the project the money was to pay for isn't moving forward. The LOCSD had the power to move the project forward but chose to stop it. (Perhaps if the County picks the project up again it would make sense to pay for the design, permitting and other things associated with TriW, but if the County doesn't choose TriW, I see no reason the LOCSD should't pay us back and stop collecting the assessments from those who pay monthly.)

Note: I am not saying that the money was specific to TriW ... but I am saying that the LOCSD did stop the project and due to AB2701 no longer plays any role. Essentially the ethical thing to do would be to pay back those who paid the LOCSD to get a sewer online because we all know the LOCSD cannot do what they promised to do in exchange for the money.

Ann, it seems as if you are attempting to divert attention here by saying that moving out of town counts as moving forward ... the issue isn't the location but instead whether the LOCSD is entitled to that money if they don't live up to their end of the bargain.


All in all it seems like yet another cost that the recall board didn't consider before embarking on their perilous journey and dragging the rest of us. Let me suggest something to those who would plan expeditions ... if you don't have enough food and water before you leave and if you don't know as a fact that you can obtain that food and water ... you shouldn't go!

Shark Inlet said...

On the issue sewertoons raises, I do think it very troubling that, as stated in the Viewpoint of past board members that the board would borrow from one account to pay another without public comment and that they would borrow money from the outside without any notice to us.

They are to represent us but the board's power to represent us has limitations. They are required by law to have meetings and to conduct all business in the open other than items which are allowed in closed session. The discussion of balancing the books is not and cannot be a closed session item. Presumably the board could have come to us and asked for more money saying "the lawyers and consultants and other costs of moving the sewer are really high and we need some additional money to keep afloat ... how about an additional $10/month for 20 years so that way we can make it through the next two years?". It wouldn't have been hard to do. It also would have been a good way to see if the community was behind them. Maybe they should have even done this before stopping construction.

The problem seems to me to be one of the ends justifying the means. It appears that this board has no qualms about bending (or perhaps even breaking) the rules if it helps them achieve their goal of moving the sewer "no matter what it costs". Sadly their choices will cost our community a whole lot of money and more ... our spirit.


Ann, what would you have to say about borrowing money without public comment? How do you feel about it?

Anonymous said...

Ann,

As you gave already taken a "wait and see" stand on sewer project costs, why not wait and see what the Bankruptcy judge rules on this issue too? Or do you only "wait and see" when you have nothing glib to say on an issue?

Regarding your blog, it is a weak attempt to avoid the issue by trying to divert attention to irrelevant issues by spinning your take on the behavior of others.

Regards, Richard LeGros

Sewertoons said...

While on the subject of "weasel words," how would you categorize Julie Tacker's statement in that article Ann regarding what the assessment payers got for their money?

""What they got was prime real estate including pump stations, easements… that could be used toward any project in the future," Tacker said. "By all means they got something for it."

But not for long if Ms. Tacker has her way. She is trying every which way to sell that land to prevent a WWTF from being built there. Her idea of a "project in the future" would be housing or retail. Do you think those who paid their assessment would get a slice of the income from the sale of the property (bargain basement priced due to its encumbrances) or the future revenue from any of that? Let's ask Ms. Tacker!

Spectator said...

Hi Ann:

The way I understood the assessment vote was that we were going to assess ourselves for design, property, permits , etc. That was the 20 million. The balance of the costs of the sewer would come from a low interest loan that would be serviced by monthly sewer charges, including operating charges. Connection charges were part of the deal. There was no additional 218 vote for assessment because it was deemed unnecessary.

You, or perhaps other anti-TRI-W activists, have brought to our attention repetedly that we never had a 218 vote for the balance of the sewer costs, and that would make the whole thing illegal.

I do not know as to the illegality, and you sure as hell do not know. But what we both know is that because of STOPPING the sewer and the default on the loan, the CCRWQCB required a 218 vote inorder to protect the State in order to get the funding restored, for the TRI-W construction to continue.

One can't blame the state for wanting to protect itself from nut cases. It is not logical or responsible to stop a sewer with a low cost loan that is site specific, and thereby default. Especially when the property owners have already assessed themselves for design, etc.

When you take the Tribune to task, you are correct. The Tribune is a victim's paper. They print inaccurate information or leave out information. However, you are no better, but to your tremendous credit, you put your spin and opinion out, and some respond with foot in mouth to your sock with foot in mouth. And that is fallacy of composition. ( Presuming of the whole what is true of a part.)

The premise on much of your spin is argumentum ad populum ( appeal to popular opinion, bias, or misconception ).

In the meantime, without a crystal ball, I will twist the left hand dial on my cardboard box, knowing that a sewer system will arrive and be affordable, and that come 2010 the water gods will not cut off our septic systems or fine us $500 a month for using them. At the same time I will twist the right hand dial so that money will fall from heaven to correct this pending bankruptcy. Hello, hello, when will the cargo arrive?

Mike Green said...

So they want their money back, big whoop.
I'd like some of my money back for what I concider bad government too!
Believe me, it would be way more than 3500 bucks.
How about a refund for all the taxes paid to the county.
There is very good argument that the County is respomsible for some, if not all of this mess.
Also I'd like a refund for whatever taxes were used to pay for the "Water Gods" ( that may be $0 because they probably live on the fines they impose)

So go ahead, get in line.
It will surley be as much of a waste of time as the dissolution movement.

I do believe that the folks that paid up front should get the balance of their deposit minus what someone has payed by assesement schedule.
With this warning: "Dont ever pay the government more that you absolutly have to".

To me the BIG issue is the 2010 drop dead decree.

I have very little faith that a sewer will be on line by then, if even started.

Unlike, Jon I don't believe in the cargo cult. (much)

Anonymous said...

What's with this "cargo cult" crap? Comparing it to the LOSO situation is about the stupidest thing ever put forth here.
Jon should find another "manual" to put forth his stange doctrine....like, Mein Kampf or 1976 or How To Win Friends And Influence People or Barny Does Disneyland.
Come off that CargoCrap, Jon, you are smarter than that.....I hope!

Anonymous said...

I find the cargo cult analogy not only amusing but somewhat credible. Anyone who understands the incredible power of group values and beliefs over controlling human behavior should see the analogy as, um, brilliant in a way. We wait, we wait, we wait for something to fall from the sky that will save us. We haven't been able to save ourselves, no matter how much we "care" or what we "believe."

Churadogs said...

Inlet sez:"Note: I am not saying that the money was specific to TriW ... but I am saying that the LOCSD did stop the project and due to AB2701 no longer plays any role. Essentially the ethical thing to do would be to pay back those who paid the LOCSD to get a sewer online because we all know the LOCSD cannot do what they promised to do in exchange for the money."

If the money wasn't specific for Tri W, then what was it for? What portion went to buy easements and land, what portion went to pay for design, etc? What portion will be utilized in whatever "updated" system the county devises?

Inlet also sez:"Ann, it seems as if you are attempting to divert attention here by saying that moving out of town counts as moving forward ... the issue isn't the location but instead whether the LOCSD is entitled to that money if they don't live up to their end of the bargain."

Nope, asking a question: What constitutes NOT moving forward: The county announcing it will NOT build a wastewater system, period end of sentence? Is the county "moving ahead?" What does that mean?

Sewertoons sez:"""What they got was prime real estate including pump stations, easements… that could be used toward any project in the future," Tacker said. "By all means they got something for it."

But not for long if Ms. Tacker has her way. She is trying every which way to sell that land to prevent a WWTF from being built there. Her idea of a "project in the future" would be housing or retail. Do you think those who paid their assessment would get a slice of the income from the sale of the property (bargain basement priced due to its encumbrances) or the future revenue from any of that? Let's ask Ms. Tacker!"

I'm missing something here: If a portion of the bond money went to buy easements, land for a plant, etc. for a sewer project, and it's sold to buy different easements and different land for a plant, isn't that a straight across the board transfer? Why should homeowners be entitled to "future revnue" from whoever buys Tri W?

Jon sez:"However, you are no better, but to your tremendous credit, you put your spin and opinion out, and some respond with foot in mouth to your sock with foot in mouth. "

Once again, to repeat myself: My column is an opinion column, it runs on the opinion page of the Bay News. My blog is my blog and like most blogs consists of my opinion and whatever else I choose to write about. People posting on this blog are expressing their opinions as well. Why I take the Tribune to task so much is because on the front page they're supposed to be doing reportage and journalism 101, which means get the facts straight and, please god, set those facts into CONTEXT so the reader can make sense of it. What goes on the Opinion page, is . . . opinion.

It's a puzzle tome why anyone has a problem understanding that.

Mike sez:"I do believe that the folks that paid up front should get the balance of their deposit minus what someone has payed by assesement schedule.
With this warning: "Dont ever pay the government more that you absolutly have to"."

There may be a misunderstanding here. People who paid yearly (vs lump sum) will be paying yearly for a long time to come. Neither the pre-payers or yearly payers should get their money back because they bought land and preliminary designs and easements & etc. And the land and easements will be transfered and incorporated intot he price of a new plant so they've "bought" that part already with the same money, so to speak. Is it possible that many people who pre-paid think that those of us who are paying on time suddenly won't have to keep paying that amount? No, we'll be paying for the original assessment PLUS whatever the new assessment is, while those who pre-paid will only be billed for the new assessment.

as for getting the money back, back from whom? Watson Montgomery Harza for design work they've already done? If it's returned to everyone when the Tri W site is sold, if it is, then it'd just have to be added right back onto the new assessment to purchase new land & etc. So, it seems moot to me.

but then, what do I know. I'm glibly holding the torch to light the runway for de plane! de plane!

Sewertoons said...

Ann says:
"I'm missing something here: If a portion of the bond money went to buy easements, land for a plant, etc. for a sewer project, and it's sold to buy different easements and different land for a plant, isn't that a straight across the board transfer? Why should homeowners be entitled to "future revnue" from whoever buys Tri W? "

The point is that the land Ms. Tacker wants to sell will be sold for some other purpose than a WWTF, as the CSD no longer owns that project, but is merely trying to cling tooth and nail to preventing Tri-W from being a project. It is all going to the County in a month. This would not be a transfer, it would be a sale to get some capital to work with. This money would not be used to pay back the people who paid their assessment in advance.

If you have looked at the CSD's present budget, and the amount of money needed to continue the lawsuits (yes, yet another attorney will be needed if the bankruptcy is approved), you will see there is not enough to finish out the year. That is where the money from the sale of Tri-W would go.

Shark Inlet said...

Okay Ann ... lemmie ask you my question another way.

If the CSD doesn't actually get a sewer built, why are they entitled to money they took for the building of a sewer?

Anonymous said...

Shark you are soooo lame!! I can not even begin to explain.

































Quit blogging and get informed

Shark Inlet said...

So ... inform me why these folks who paid the LOCSD upfront for a sewer shouldn't get their money back even though the LOCSD promised to pay them back if the LOCSD doesn't actually put in a sewer.

Anonymous said...

First of all, anyone who paid up front for a sewer in Los Osos is very stupid. Secondly, why can't those who paid up front have that amount deducted from their share when the payments start coming due?

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